Why does Heart of Dakota use different writing programs each year?

Dear Carrie

Why does Heart of Dakota use different writing programs each year?

Dear Carrie,

I just wanted to ask why Heart of Dakota uses different writing programs each year? I like all that I see in Heart of Dakota, and I’m quite a researcher!  However,  I was wondering what the benefits are of using different sources from one year to another? Write With the Best, IEW, The Exciting World of Creative Writingthey are all so different. I just wondered why one writing program isn’t chosen to continue with year after year?  Thanks in advance for answering my question.

Sincerely,

“Ms. Wondering Why Use Different Writing Programs”

Dear “Ms. Wondering Why Use Different Writing Programs,”

You are correct!  We have purposely chosen to use different writing programs from year to year in Heart of Dakota. Writing has a definite progression of skills and certain types of writing that are easier to accomplish than others. So, we keep this in mind as we move through the guides. Various writing programs also have different strengths and appeal to different types of learners, which is something that should not be overlooked. Can you imagine if all of our great writers had been exposed to only one particular writing “program” that they all were required to use year after year?  Would it produce as much variety as we see in great writing, or could it instead feel stifling to some writers?

Writing is a highly creative and personal process.

It’s important to remember that writing is a highly creative and personal process. While it does have certain skills that need to be taught, it also requires much more individual expression and output. Thus, it requires a different approach than subjects like math or English, where a certain set of skills are taught and an exacting output is required. In math and English it makes perfect sense to stay the course with a single program. Yet, in writing, it is true that “variety is the spice of life” (and the spice of writing)!

Different writing programs have different strengths.

Having the freedom to choose among the different writing programs available, let’s take advantage of the strengths within each program. Students then can be exposed to a variety of writing experiences and writing approaches. Yet, students can still maintain solid skill progression when formal writing programs are integrated with the writing across the curriculum as scheduled in the HOD guide. Our approach also allows us to be better balanced in seeing the writing program as just one piece of the HOD puzzle each year. This helps us create a puzzle that is put together piece by piece, year by year, so one cohesive picture emerges.

The result? Each student’s own beautifully crafted puzzle. Not the same exact puzzle as another student’s puzzle. But rather a uniquely personally crafted puzzle, with different pieces taken from different writing programs that when put together, create one original masterpiece. Then, a writer is born. So, let us start putting together the pieces of the puzzle to make some new ‘masterpieces’ today!

Blessings,
Carrie

Five Simple Steps to Help Your Student Become a Strong Writer

From Our House to Yours

A Trend in Writing to Ponder

Each day I get to help families with placement in Heart of Dakota. I’ve enjoyed doing this for over a decade and consider it an incredible blessing and a privilege! I see a trend for many students who come to Heart of Dakota from other curricula.  They are often placing lower on the placement chart in writing, spelling, and grammar.  They have done much work orally. But, now that they are getting older, parents are looking ahead to middle school and high school work. They are concerned their students won’t be ready.

Impact on Spelling and Editing Skills

Since much of the work was done orally by students, their spelling has also been impacted. They just have not written enough to form the habit of spelling well. Likewise, they have done little to no editing of their own written work. The parent has not been editing either, as students have been doing their work orally. This leaves the parent with all of the responsibility of editing a larger volume of work, as students should be writing more as they mature.  So, a responsibility that should be shared or shifting more to the student has landed soundly in the parent’s lap!  Not what we busy homeschool moms need, right?!?

How Reading Aloud Everything Can Impact Students’ Writing

When older students are combined with much younger students and therefore everything must be read aloud either by them or the parent, their writing is impacted. Seeing the text on the page as you read in your head fixes proper spelling in your mind.  This in turn helps you have a better chance of spelling words correctly in your own writing.  Older students who have not read independently often do not write well independently for this reason. This is why Charlotte Mason advocated students at the age of 9 be responsible for their reading. Can you think back to yourself as a 5th grade student? I know, for some of us, this is going waaaaaay back.  But, thinking back, how would your teachers reading everything aloud to you have impacted your writing?  Probably significantly, and not in a way you’d like.

The good news – Heart of Dakota’s plans are designed to help students improve their writing!

Students incrementally become stronger writers using Heart of Dakota’s plans!  Simply following the daily plans and using the writing helps in the appendix of each guide helps students gradually improve.  However, what do you do if you are coming to Heart of Dakota later?  Or, what if you did Heart of Dakota from the start, but you altered the plans so work was done orally instead?  Well, take heart!  Students can and will improve given time, as they create new writing habits.  So, here are 5 tips to help your children strengthen their writing skills and be on the road to writing well!

#1: Follow Heart of Dakota’s plans by requiring all writing in assignments to be completed.

Start small if need be!  Students assigned to write 5- 7 sentences for a written narration should start with 5 good short sentences.  Quality trumps quantity to begin with!  Students should use proper spelling in all copywork, written narrations, and formal writing assignments. However, editing writing in all subject areas helps as well.  So, if you see a word spelled wrong in science, for example, try to help them fix it. Though work need not be perfect, spelling is something to try to edit in all subject areas as much as possible.

A word on this poster had to be fixed because it was misspelled. Not fun to fix, but in the end, he was happier to share his work knowing it was spelled right!
#2: Use the editing tips in the back of the guide.

Take time to edit to help your student become a strong writer! Working through the list following the directions in the Appendix will help students form good editing habits.  The responsibility for editing will gradually shift more from you to your students.  As this happens, your kiddos will learn writing carefully from the start equals less editing at the end. Keep in mind, students write one draft for written narrations.   A parent should not require a student to rewrite an entire written narration in a second or third draft.  Rather, students edit their first draft to the best of their ability with a parent offering help and encouragement as needed.

Riley’s Written Narrations in World Geography
#3:  Do dictation every day you homeschool.

Heart of Dakota’s plans assign dictation 3 out of 4 days a week.  Struggling spellers can see more improvement in their spelling by doing dictation daily. Be sure to follow the directions at the start of dictation carefully, as they follow Charlotte Mason’s tried and true methods.  For one of my sons who struggled with spelling, we did dictation daily.  It took his scores on standardized testing from below average to above average.  He didn’t become a stellar speller overnight, mind you!  But, slow and steady consistent dictation and editing helped him improve greatly!

#4:  Students should read when assigned to do so.

Carrie wrote Heart of Dakota’s plans to include living books. She chose these books specifically with reading roles in mind.  Students placed properly in a guide can independently read what has been assigned or quickly grow into the reading.  Carrie didn’t forget parents’ love to read aloud either! Parents always get to enjoy reading something too.  I love the books I get to read aloud with my sons!  But, I also love my sons enjoying reading on their own too! Keep in mind not all living books function best as read alouds.  Likewise, the reading assignments vary in length.  Some readings are long!  Students are meant to read them more quickly independently. As Charlotte Mason advocated children 9 years or older begin doing their own reading, Carrie chose books with this in mind.

#5: Teach students to shrink their writing to fit on notebook paper.

Students who are new to writing often write quite large.  They also often do not know how to write with proper spacing.  Writing on lined notebook paper for subjects such as R & S English, science questions, Common Place book entries, etc. can be a challenge.  You can help by pointing out the left and right margins.  Likewise, you can draw their attention to spacing between words.  Helping them visualize a dotted line within the wide line also helps with writing lower case letters.  Students can skip lines, as this helps them better see how to edit their written work.  They can also experiment with various pencils and grippers, until they find what they like best. Parents can jot editing notes in the margin for easy reference.

Emmett’s Writing on Notebook Paper and My Editing Marks in the Margin

I use these tips with my own sons each day!  I have seen such improvement in writing, spelling, and grammar through the years with Heart of Dakota.  My job as editor decreases and shifts to my sons’ job as they mature.  This is what helps them be able to write well without me!  And that, in my mind, is the final goal for writing!  Hope this helps as you encourage your own kiddos to become the best writers they can be!

In Christ,

Julie

P.S. For more on written narrations as a form of assessment, click here!

P.S.S. For more on dictation as a way to teach spelling to struggling students, click here!

Does having my child with special needs write create bad spelling habits?

Dear Carrie,

My daughter with special needs is able to read, but spelling is a huge issue. I am wondering for a child that can’t spell if writing practice is counter productive? I’m worried having her write things out is actually reinforcing bad spelling habits. I’ve been having her do beginning dictation with Heart of Dakota. But, I wonder if written narrations, where she is creating ideas herself, is just maybe reinforcing poor spelling in her mind? I do correct it. But, she still sees it when she writes it wrong the first time, and she makes the same mistakes over and over. What should I do? I guess my question is, does having my child with special needs write create bad spelling habits? Thanks in advance!

Sincerely,

“Please Help with Special Needs Spelling in Writing”

Dear “Please Help with Special Needs and Spelling in Writing,”

Thanks for sharing about your daughter! Charlotte Mason viewed the mind to function like a camera.  As we see words spelled in written form over and over, we begin to think the word ‘looks right’ even if it is spelled wrong.  That is why spelling programs that include misspelled words for students to correct are detrimental to truly learning proper spelling!

You are so right that writing a word and seeing it incorrectly multiple times fixes the “wrong” spelling in your daughter’s mind, until the wrong way starts to look right!  So, whenever you do something where your daughter will write, copy a portion of it on the markerboard. She can then look at it to copy it on her paper correctly. Also, never have her copy so much that it wears her out. This will cause her copying to quickly go downhill, as I’m sure you know.

Or, if it is difficult for your daughter to copy from markerboard to paper correctly, you can write on paper instead. Just leave a space below each line for her to copy directly under your text letter by letter. Hope that helps!

Blessings!

Carrie

5 Simple Tips to Fully Enjoy Heart of Dakota’s Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages

From Our House to Yours

Creating a “Beautiful” Notebook

Heart of Dakota’s Creation to Christ is the first year kiddos get to write in those beautiful full-color notebooks! As HOD moms, we eagerly await this rite of passage, and we just can’t wait to begin a special keepsake of the year using those lovely notebooking pages! And they ARE lovely. But, the writing and pictures and entries kiddos make on those lovely pages can be… well, lovely and not-so-lovely. So what should we expect as moms for first-time notebook users?

Expect the Plans to Be Done

#1 – Expect the plans to be done, but give extra ‘grace’ as this is a training year!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages
Creation to Christ Notebook Timeline pictures

So, when the Creation to Christ plans say for kiddos to draw, color, and label 3 timeline pictures; they need to strive to do that. When the plans say a certain number of sentences for their written narration; they need to strive to write that number of sentences. When the plans say for a certain passage to be copied in cursive; they need to strive to do that. However, progress should be evident! In other words, improvement from the start to the finish of the notebook should be visually obvious. The first entries being less ‘lovely’ or ‘complete’ than the last. Remember to give grace, especially at the start of the year, knowing this is a training year for learning how to use the notebooks.

Encourage Writing Within the Boxes

#2 – Encourage writing within the boxes, but understand this may be hard at first!

Learning to write inside the boxes is a skill in itself. Often students just don’t notice the edges of the boxes, and they could just write outside of them not knowing the goal is to try to stay inside them. So, just pointing out the goal is to stay inside the boxes and the frames of the boxes are the stopping places is very helpful! Students’ writing is also often larger, especially if they are on the younger side of the target age range of CTC. Learning to ‘shrink’ their writing is also a skill in itself. It takes time, but little by little encouraging students to develop fine motor skills to write smaller within a defined area is well worth it!

Know When the Goal Is Met

#3 – Know when the goal is met and call it ‘good enough’ then!

Carrie makes clear in the guides the goals for each part of the plans. The Introduction, the Appendix, and the daily plans of each guide help us know when a ‘goal’ is met. So, for example, the goal of the timeline is to keep a chronological record of what has been studied. It is not to have a beautiful artistic drawing – though some kiddos will be able to do that too! The goal of the written narration is to retell the history reading using guided questions. It is not to answer every question perfectly, as if it was a quiz to be mastered – creativity is allowed! So, if the student wrote the designated number of sentences (even if it was the minimum suggested), if the student answered some/most of the questions, and if the answers make quite good sense… the goal is met, and it can be deemed ‘good enough’!

Writing Must Be Legible

#4 – Writing must be legible, but not perfect!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages
Writing must be legible . . . but not perfect!

The ‘loveliness’ of students’ writing will vary greatly, and that is alright. What is not alright is if it just cannot be read at all! One sure-fire way to help kiddos understand this is to have them read aloud their written narrations with pencil in hand. As they read aloud to us, they can be encouraged to make changes they need to as they read. Often times, they will catch missing words, misspelled words, missing punctuation, etc. themselves. That only serves to help us have less to edit later with them!

If they cannot read their own writing, they will begin to understand that no one else will be able to read it either… and the real shame here is NOT that their writing is not perfect… it is that their ideas, their responses, their thoughts will not be able to be shared with others – and their ideas are what we LOVE… so writing must be legible, but it need not be perfect.

Editing Is a Skill to Be Learned

#5 – Editing is a skill to be learned one step at a time!

Editing is a process, and slow but steady progress is the goal. The best thing to do is to use the Written Narration Skills: Teacher’s List and the Written Narration Skills: Student’s List in the Appendix of CTC. Step 1 should be taught first; then, move on to Step 2, and so forth.

Focusing on teaching ONE skill at a time in the order it is listed will help you avoid overwhelming your child with too many skills at once, and will give your child a manageable plan for editing writing. This slow and steady process helps students improve one step at a time, and ensures we as moms do not to tip over to expecting perfection by making a student erase and rewrite everything; or by making them write everything twice. Written narrations are not to have a first, second, third draft. Making students do so will only cause them to dislike written narrations… intensely!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Page
Creation to Christ Unit 19 Notebooking Page

So, here you will see my son’s CTC Student Notebook… and this is the halfway mark, as he is in Units 18-19! Progress in many areas is evident, but more progress is expected as we move forward! It is LOVELY in its own way, and I look forward to it becoming more and more so as he becomes better and better at each of these amazing skills, step-by-step!!!

The next time your child works on a notebook entry for his/her Heart of Dakota guide, keep these tips in mind and see what you think!

In Christ,
Julie